The Seattle neighborhood of South Park celebrates opening of new South Park Bridge on June 29, 2014.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 7/02/2014
  • Essay 10808
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On June 29, 2014, the Seattle neighborhood of South Park celebrates the opening of the new South Park Bridge spanning the Duwamish Waterway. The opening ends a four-year period during which the South Park neighborhood, a diverse community of nearly 4,000, was cut off from the rest of Seattle. The trunnion double-leaf bascule bridge is reminiscent of the historic but deteriorating Scherzer rolling-lift double-leaf bascule bridge it replaces. The new structure and surrounding riverine landscape incorporate elements of the old bridge and the project includes extensive river restoration. The opening ceremony consists largely of short speeches by key players in the enormous effort to raise funds to build the new bridge, most notably Dagmar Cronn representing the South Park Neighborhood Association, King County executive Dow Constantine (b. 1961), and U.S. Senator Patty Murray (b. 1950). After short talks by these and others, Muckleshoot tribal members offer a Shaker blessing. Fireworks shoot off the top of the raised western leaf (on the South Park side). Then the leaves are lowered and the crowd walks across the new bridge. A parade marches back to the South Park side and the celebrants party on. The bridge will officially open to traffic at 6 a.m. on Monday June 30, 2014.

Saga of the South Park Bridge

The predecessor South Park Bridge was built in 1931 to that era's standards, and had been planned for a lifespan of 75 years, which arrived in 2006. By 2010 the bridge had deteriorated to the point of being seismically unsafe. County officials deemed it necessary to close the bridge and did so on June 30, 2010. The bridge was located half in unincorporated King County (on the South Park side) and half in Tukwila (on the Boeing side). King County operated the bridge.

The closing was the occasion of a huge community wake amid fears that the cutting off of the diverse and modest Seattle neighborhood of South Park from the rest of Seattle would harm the small business district as well as commuters who used the bridge daily to get to work at the Boeing plant located directly across the river.

Long before the closing, in 1997, King County had inaugurated planning for a new bridge. In 1999 the county began looking at alternatives: 1) repair the existing bridge; 2) build a replacement bridge of which several types were considered, and 3) take down the existing bridge and don't replace it (an alternative that federal and state environmental regulations required to be studied). In 2001 King County formed a Project Advisory Committee and a Community Advisory Group. The Community Advisory Group comprised South Park residents and stakeholders. These groups met for seven years and after extensive review the county decided on a replacement bridge -- a double-leaf bascule bridge, similar to the existing bridge.

The Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) required were extensive for the site, which falls within the lower five miles of the Duwamish Waterway designated in 2001 by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund Site, among the most-contaminated sites in the nation. The county completed the draft EIS in September 2005 and the final Environmental Impact Statement in December 2009.

In February 2006, after Federal Highway Administration approval, the bascule bridge was formally declared the preferred structure.

In June 2006 the county began preparing preliminary designs, which included elements enabling the bridge to continue standing after a once-in-975-years earthquake event.

Planning and design continued. By February 2010, the bridge was ready to be built, had there been funds to build it with.

But there was the rub. The county had gotten the bridge into a 2006 Regional Transportation Investment District proposal, but voters turned this down.

The cost of maintaining the old bridge continued to hemorrhage out about $440,000 a year. After the closing, during the summer of 2010, King County went about seeking funding partners from federal, state, and local jurisdictions. After raising $100 million, in August 2010, the county applied for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant.

On October 15, 2010, King County was awarded a $34 million TIGER grant to complete the funding. Now the new South Park Bridge could be built.

It was built by a joint venture of Kiewit and Massman construction companies. The King County Department of Transportation managed the project. Tim Lane served as deputy project manager and Trinh Truong as project manager. Construction began in May 2011.


The South Park Bridge project included extensive environmental mitigation required as part of the project. For example, 352 creosoted piles were removed. The foundation type chosen was sunken caissons, which take up a much smaller footprint in the riverbed.

Riverbank restoration was extensive. The riverbank had been armored with concrete sides and these, along with a century's worth of concrete rubble and trash, were removed. The riverbank was regraded to be gradual (more like a natural river) with a restored intertidal zone, and it was planted with native vegetation. Migrating salmon require quiet pools to rest in, provided by the woody snags of a natural river, and this restoration included engineered snags. Care was taken when containing and/or removing sediments contaminated with a century's worth of industrial pollution.

The bridge deck was made of a light-weight concrete, designed in such a way that road run-off would flow into the rain garden, designed to filter it before water is returned to the river. The pathways in the garden were made of permeable concrete. The rain garden also serves as a pocket park that provides community access to the river's edge.


King County archeologist Tom Minichillo led the archeological work on the site, which was done before construction began. Archeologists dug several excavation pits and found tools, shells, and many salmon bones dating from some thousand years ago. The site was not a village but a seasonal fishing camp used by the ancestors of the Duwamish people. During salmon runs, they set up a weir, caught huge quantities of fish, and processed them by smoking.

A thousand years ago the main channel of the river flowed about 300 feet west of the existing channel. It became an oxbow (a U-shaped bend) that was filled in the early twentieth century.  

The Big Delay

In early November 2012 workers attempting to sink an enormous concrete abutment for the foundation on the western (South Park) side hit a layer of hard clay 62 feet below the river bottom. This had to be removed so that the abutment could be sunk eight more feet. The problem caused a considerable delay, aggravated by the fact that riverbottom work could only be carried out during a six-and-a-half month fish window each year, from August 1 through February 15. This delay caused other delays, and so it went.

The completion date had to be moved from September 2013 to June 2014, and the delay added greatly to expenses, so that the project came in over-budget. The estimated final cost, including everything, was $162 million.

Art, Photography, and Historic Preservation

Seattle photographer John Stamets (1949-2014) photographed the entire construction process, making hundreds of dramatic, striking images. Sadly, Stamets died of a heart attack just three weeks before the grand opening. During the celebration, some of his photographs were exhibited in the south bridge tower and some were to remain on display.

The bridge was intentionally designed to be reminiscent of its iconic predecessor and incorporated elements of the 1931 bridge. 4Culture, the cultural services agency for King County, chose Tucson artist Barbara Grygutis to serve on the bridge-replacement design team and it was due to her vision that historic 1931 railing panels, gears, light posts, grates, rockers, and guide tracks were integrated into the design of the new pedestrian railing. Parts of the old balustrade and old light posts graced the rain garden.

The extant remnant of the historic 14th Avenue S red-brick road had to be removed during bridge construction and some of the 100-year-old bricks were incorporated into the landscape design. The brick road was built in 1915 and led to the approach span of the first 14th Avenue South Bridge, an old timber bridge located about 100 feet south of the 1931 Bridge. This brick-paved road became the north end of Des Moines Memorial Drive, planted with elms to honor King County soldiers killed in World War I. The 1931 bridge was built closer to 16th Avenue S and at that time the roadway was reconfigured, leaving a little-used remnant of the historic brick-paved road. This lack of use caused the remnant to be preserved until the present bridge was built.

Interpretive signs detailing the history of the bridge and community were installed here and there. King County's required One Percent for Art program funded the art for the bridge project.

The New Bridge

The new South Park Bridge is a trunnion double-leaf bascule bridge. In this type of drawbridge, the leaves raise and lower by rotating around an axle called a trunnion. The predecessor 1931 drawbridge was a rolling-lift-type bridge in which the leaves raised by rocking back on a rocker, rather like a rocking chair set into a track. The rockers of the old bridge were incorporated into the pedestrian-railing design of the new bridge. They are to be lit up at night.

The bridge has two brick-clad towers. The north tower is used to operate the bridge and the south tower provides work space and a storage area along with a space open to the public designated for exhibitions and displays.

The bridge deck has four 11-foot-wide driving lanes, a five-foot-wide bike lane on each side and a six-foot-wide sidewalk on each side with barriers on the traffic side and a decorative railing on the river side.

The closed bridge provides 34 feet of vertical clearance above the Duwamish Waterway at mean high water level. When open, the leaves do not hang over the channel whatsoever, so there is no height restriction on vessels passing through. The navigation channel is 92 feet wide between fender piers.

The City of Seattle operates the bridge.

The Celebration

The bridge-opening street party began at 12 noon on Sunday June 29, 2014, and included two performance stages -- the Dallas stage and the Donovan stage, featuring Latino bands and other local bands with names such as Gnarlene & the Frisky Pigs with Fluffer and Drummerboy. There were ample comestibles, the sort of tasty food South Park is famous for. There was a beer garden and informal tours of the bridge's western approach, and of one of the brick-clad towers, the rain garden, and signage detailing the history of the area.

At about 3:30 the formal bridge-opening ceremony began on the bridge, with the dramatic raised leaf serving as backdrop. Short speeches were made by King County executive Dow Constantine, Senator Patty Murray, Seattle mayor Ed Murray, Tukwila mayor Jim Haggerton, Congressman Jim McDermott, Dagmar Cronn representing the South Park Neighborhood Association, and representatives of Boeing, the machinists union, the federal Highway Administration, Seattle City Council, and the Port of Seattle. Harold Taniguchi, director of the King County Department of Transportation, served as MC.

After the speeches, members of the Muckleshoot Tribe blessed the bridge in the Shaker manner. Then came fireworks shot off from the top of the raised leaf. The leaves were lowered and the crowd trooped across the new bridge to the Tukwila side, which is extensively taken up with Boeing facilities. Upon arrival, the crowd turned around and walked back across, lining the sidewalks to wait for the parade.

The parade was led by a large float representing the South Park Business Association, which spearheaded the plan for the parade and was deeply involved in the process of choosing the design for the bridge and raising funds to build it. Following were cars, both antique and souped up, one of which was able to execute small leaps. A marching band came marching along. A Duwamish tribal float featured a large canoe. Another marching band played bagpipes. A group of spectacular horses included a magnificent black Friesian that performed a dance.

The celebration concluded with a wrestling match by the famous masked wrestlers Lucha Libre! And after that the party partied on.

South Park is a diverse industrial/residential neighborhood of about 4,000 residents. It has an organic farm, small businesses, artists, Boeing employees, and residents representing many languages and cultures. It portrays itself as a small neighborhood with a big voice. On this day South Park's voice was joyous and very big indeed.

Sources: "About the New South Park Bridge," King County website accessed June 30, 2014 (; "Archived Construction Project Updates" nos. 1 to 33, King County website accessed July 1, 2014 (; "South Park Bridge -- How We Got Here," King County website accessed July 1, 2014 (; Jordan Howland, "South Park Bridge -- Grand Opening!," 4Culture website accessed June 30, 2014 (; Joel Connelly, "A New South Park Bridge: The Neighborhood Made it Happen,", June 29, 2014, (; "South Park Bridge Reopens After Four-Year Closure,", June 29, 2014 (; Mike Lindblom, "South Park Bridge Delayed by Foundation Installation -- Difficulty Will Push Completion Date to Early 2014," The Seattle Times, November 2, 2012 (; Michael Upchurch, "Photographer," The Seattle Times, June 15, 2014 (; Karen Johnson, "Rappin' with the Residents," Seattle Magazine, December 2011, reprinted in the All About South Park website accessed July 2, 2014 (; "South Park Bridge Replacement Is Underway!," Seattle Department of Transportation SDOT blog accessed July 2, 2014 (; eyewitness observations by author, South Park Bridge celebration, June 29, 2014.
This essay was emended and updated on October 20, 2014.. It was again corrected on November 21, 2014, to state that the parade was led by a South Park Business Association float.

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